Set during the opening days of World War II, First Squad: The Moment of Truth takes the investigations into the supernatural made by the Nazis. Its main cast are a group of Soviet teenagers with extraordinary abilities whose are being fought against by an officer who is attempting to raise from the dead a supernatural army of crusaders from the 12th-century Order of the Sacred Cross and enlist them in the Nazi cause. I hope this film will raise awareness and interest in history of heroic actions of young people during WWII. Whether or not it was a good or bad anime film I am about to tell you.
Now I mentioned that I hoped this film carries the message of the brave soldier who died in the war because although it is far fetched, the film does get across the futility of war. Sadly, the historical facts are probably ripped off Wikipedia and there is no feel of urgency in the war. Even the horrors of warfare came up lifeless. The backgrounds are very powerful though, with winter landscapes and beautiful battlefields and buildings. The art direction was top-notch and the animators brought their A game. While the action scenes were sparse, it shed light on some very interesting points of the history and issues in human psychology.
They try their best to make the movie’s story seem based on real events. Some people would take it as fiction and some, mainly the young audience, may take it as truth, which is quite worrying. You’re probably wondering how that would be possible, and well, it wouldn’t be except for the fact that there are documentary passages where real human actors that pretend to be authentic contemporary witnesses talk about the war and the secret projects of the Russian military. Having characters speak Russian, even though the animation is clearly Japanese, is plain stupid. It sounds very funny and distracts from the viewing experience.
All in all, this anime is style over substance with a beautifully hollow story and confusing plot. Don’t get me wrong, I love Studio 4c’s work. They are regularly pump out some of the most creative and unique animated pieces in the world. But, First Squad is a useless mix of Japanese sword fights, undead Pioneers, with the Great Patriotic War on the background, with simplistic story and one-dimensional characters. If you’re wanting to see some unusual anime around the World War II era, this might be a nice companion piece. As a standalone film it is a failure and the constant interruptions of historians to talk about the war spliced in was a terrible move. Take that aspect away and we would have had a decent outing, except, they ruin what little pacing the animation has itself, making the movie drag for so long pointlessly.